The Importance of Proper Puppy Socialization
By: Elaina Franklin
Hello everybody! Elaina Franklin here from Positive Solutions Animal Training. I would like to talk to you about a very concerning problem that we, as trainers, are seeing on the rise. It’s very sad to say but the number one reason most of us get called out to evaluate a dog is due to the dog’s reactivity to certain people, animals, places, or other stimuli. After taking a closer look into the situation and having a discussion with the family; we are often able to determine that the dog is suffering from fear-related aggression. This usually stems from improper puppy socialization. I am sure you have met a dog who is afraid of men, doesn’t like loud noises, or doesn’t like other dogs. All of these examples could very well have developed from inadequate socialization.
Puppies experience an extremely important time early in life called the socialization period. This begins at 3 weeks and lasts until 12-16 weeks, depending on the breed. During this time, puppies experience several different developmental periods where experiences impact how their brains develop and lead to how they react to certain inputs. These changes prepare them for different experiences and exposures. For example, puppies respond best to leashes and harnesses between 5-9 weeks and learn a preference for the type of surface and location during potty time at around 8.5 weeks.
There are also behavioral patterns that develop within these sensitive periods that prime the puppy for their experiences. Missing these sensitive periods may also have consequences. At 10-12 weeks until 16-20 weeks, puppies are ready to learn how to explore new environments. Play also becomes rougher and puppies begin to learn how to control their bite strength. If this exposure is missed, the puppy may develop a fear of anything new, may display inappropriate responses with play, and may never learn to control its bite strength. You can imagine how this can become a serious problem. We do have to consider that the puppy’s genes will also have an effect of their behavior since a puppy is a product of their genes and environment. Having said that, if the puppy came from parents who have a genetically sound temperament, then the puppy will need an average amount of socialization. However, if the puppy came from parents that are unstable the puppy will need a significant amount of work during the socialization period to ensure that the puppy becomes a well-adapted, friendly member of society.
What you can do?
If you or someone you know has a puppy or is thinking about getting a puppy it is extremely important that you equip yourself with a puppy socialization checklist. You can download one here https://drsophiayin.com/app/uploads/2015/12/Socialization_Checklist.pdf. The key to the socialization checklist is to make sure that your puppy is not only encountering many different stimuli but to make sure that these associations are completely positive! That means take treats with you. Pairing new stimuli with food will help your puppy learn positive associations to the stimuli. If your puppy will not eat around certain stimuli, then he is too nervous/stressed and should be backed away from the stimuli to a distance that does not make him nervous and fed there.
Don’t ever force your puppy into a situation if they are showing that they are nervous or fearful. It is also important to understand that puppies need to be careful around other dogs until their puppy vaccines are finished. This means that puppies shouldn’t go to places like the dog park but should still be experiencing puppy play dates. This is assuming that both puppies are up to date with their vaccines. If you aren’t able to set up puppy play dates then a puppy group class may be the right decision for you.
If your puppy or adult dog is displaying fear, anxieties, or nervousness to certain stimuli it is very important that you contact a qualified positive based trainer to help you with a desensitization/counter-conditioning plan to help change the way your dog views the stimuli. No dog should have to live in fear as we have many tools/techniques to help teach them a new conditioned emotional response. If your dog is experiencing what you think is fear-related aggression, anxiety or stress, please contact me. I will have a positive solution to your problem! For more information on training & behavioral tips, please visit www.PositiveSolutionsTraining.com!
Miller, Pat. “How to Socialize Your New Puppy.” The Whole Dog Journal, Nov 2004. Retrieved from
Overall, Karen. Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats. Elsevier Saunders, 2014.
Yin, Sophie. Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right. Cattledog Pub. 2011.
Elaina Franklin has a B.S in Animal Studies and Biology and has been training animals for over 15 years! She has trained everything from dogs, dolphins, cats, river otters, and nurse sharks. Her motto is every species can be trained positively so every species should be trained positively! For more information go to www.PositiveSolutionsTraining.com